“That’s awesome! I’m so glad it worked,” Chris Hardwick exclaimed at the end of this interview. During the month of December, the @midnight host and his staff promoted the hashtag #FollowerSanta. The writers would select one of the show’s followers on Twitter and ask viewers to follow them back. They inadvertently selected me while I was on assignment at a Star Wars marathon, so I thanked Hardwick for the good social media deed that — at the time — resulted in an uncomfortable number of notifications on my soon-to-be-silenced smartphone.
Then again, as the 44-year-old funnyman/Nerdist founder put it, sometimes the best things in life are quite uncomfortable. Hence Funcomfortable, Hardwick’s second stand-up special with Comedy Central, which premieres Saturday, April 30 at 10 p.m. ET. Four years have passed since his first televised outing, 2012’s Mandroid, but not because the comic decided to take a prolonged vacation. On the contrary, Hardwick performs regularly while doing just about everything else there is to do on television and the internet.
Yet the past few years have proven rather eventful for nerddom’s mascot. His father, professional bowler Billy Hardwick, passed away in 2013. Two years later, he got engaged to Lydia Hearst. All of this and more pops up in the incredibly personal new special, but as Hardwick explained it, he wouldn’t have it any other way. Not even Funcomfortable‘s unnerving opening sequence.
The opening montage looks like something out of a Rob Zombie film.
Oh yeah. Actually, it’s interesting that you say that because the intro for… There’s this kind of opening that a lot of shows have right now. These weird montages of surrealism. So I thought it’d be fun to do that for the special. Tonally, it previews what the set is about, but it also satirizes the fact that so many shows do that now. When we were designing it, the examples that I sent over were American Horror Story and True Detective. But ultimately, yeah, a lot of that is derivative from Rob’s House of 1,000 Corpses. You’re totally right. And I remember when True Blood came out, and I saw the opening, I realized they’d almost completely ripped off House of 1,000 Corpses. Someone obviously saw the film and thought, “Yeah just make that.” Since then, a lot of people have caught on and started doing that kind of opening.
I only realized about halfway through that you peppered it with images from your hour. Like the honey-eating man in a bear costume.
They were basically just Easter eggs from the special. Everything in the opening is something that happens in the hour. So if you just watch it, you’ll probably think it’s just a bunch of weird stuff. But if you watch it again after seeing the whole special, you’ll see everything — the male nurse, the pregnancy, the bear eating honey out of the butt. The first shot of it… You could really see that it was a butt, and the bear’s face was really in there. We didn’t think Comedy Central would be cool with that, so we had to just crop it out a little bit. There’s also a little baby picture of me in there that flashes really fast.
It’s very unnerving. Then again, the special has “uncomfortable” in the title.
That’s exactly right. That’s exactly what you’re supposed to feel. All the graphics and the album heart is supposed to make anyone who sees it feel that way. I’m talking about a lot of stuff that isn’t super comfortable for me to talk about in public, which is why I wanted to do it that way. It all came from a podcast I did with Mike Birbiglia. Mike said he went to a place that’s really uncomfortable whenever he writes, and I thought it was a great experiment, so I decided to try it. And that just became… In the midst of all that, my dad died, so that really became one of the most uncomfortable things in the world.
I love your dad’s mantra, “Any day you can take a shit is a good day.”
I appreciate that. If you… This is getting super granular and will probably bore people, but the set really does have an arc. The beginning is all about where babies come from. Even the first jizz joke, “All your moms have had jizz on them at least once.” That’s ultimately about conception and the creation of life. The middle part is about death. Then it comes back around to my upcoming marriage and the realization that I’m going to have kids at some point. It ends with me, hopefully, mashing up all my anxiety with this philosophy that my dad had, and that’s where it lands. It’s a full circle. Birth, life, death, new life and so on. And my dad’s words really do say what I wanted to say with the special.
It was kind of a weird thing. I got on stage three days after my dad’s funeral and started talking about it because I needed to. I needed to process it. So when I did this special, I realize I’d been keeping him alive, in a way, because I was talking about him every time I was on stage. It was still something that was a part of my world, but when the special was done, I realized I had to let him go. Every hour can’t be about how my dad died. So that was kind of strange. When I do the bits on stage, I’m thinking about him. I’m remembering him. It’s still fun to remember all of the really uncomfortable things he would say in public.
I thought it was very sweet. Funny, but sweet.
I didn’t want it to be too much of a one-man show. I still wanted it to be a stand-up show and not too much like something you’d see in a black box theater. I don’t know. I did my best to honor him. He was very effusive about… The first time he saw me talk about him on stage, he loved it. After the show he said, “Oh my God, I love it when you talk about me. Anything you want. Any story you want. I don’t care. Make fun of me. I don’t give a shit what it is.” I loved it, especially because I was nervous the first time he saw me do some bits about him. He had a great sense of humor, but I just didn’t know if he wanted me to do that. But when he saw it, he was so excited. He loved attention. He was a comedian at heart who just happened to be a professional bowler. He naturally performed for people in groups.
It was such a great thing for him to be talked about on stage, so I felt like it wasn’t disrespectful to do it one last time. I wasn’t exploiting him for comedy. Honestly, we don’t talk about death in conversation all that much. It is a thing that happens, so part of it was me wanting to demystify it. To tell people it’s okay to talk about it. I think some people feel bad, because comedy is kind of an armor in some ways. It helps us process things, but others don’t know if they’re allowed to… Sometimes dark jokes pop up in your mind in really horrible situations, and you think you’re a bad person for thinking of it, but it’s not. It’s just a human thing to do.
It made me want to call my dad and tell him I love him.
That’s kind of what I wanted to talk about. What makes me happy is, after shows, meeting people in person or having fans on Twitter tweet at me and say they’re in Dead Dad Club, too. They’ll tell me they appreciated the topic because it makes them feel like they’re not crazy or alone. And that’s part of it, too, letting people know that it sucks, but it’s okay to talk about it. It’s okay to process it this way. Did you hear the Paul Rudd podcast?
We kind of discovered that we were both in the Dead Dad Club. We talked about it, especially all the stupid, dumb jokes that came into our minds, and we bonded over that. I saw him at the Captain America: Civil War premiere a couple of weeks ago. I said, “Oh my dad’s still dead. You?” He said, “Yup, still dead!” It’s just like a funny thing about one of the worst things that can happen to you. The comedy helps you feel a sense of control over it. I’m sure not everyone will agree with that, but that’s just how we process it.
I suspect very few will disagree with you. Besides, it’s neat to realize that the progenitor of “enjoy your burrito” is an adage about poop.
My first special, Mandroid… It was kind of personal. It was sort of about me trying to figure out who I was. But if I watch it now, I can see how it’s not super personal. It’s just about some superficial things that I like. When you first start doing comedy — most people do this, and so did I — you try to make jokes about other things in the world. The longer you do stand-up, the more introspective you become. That’s what makes you unique, because everyone has a unique set of experiences. So you just start delving into that more, and then your comedy should get more and more personal the longer you do it. Unless you’re a two-line joke guy, in which case it doesn’t work that way. But we’re definitely in an age of autobiographical comedy. Funcomfortable was a very different experience for me because it wasn’t based on jokes, it was based on personal experience. That made it kind of fun, to be open about a lot of things that I would probably never tell another person.
It’s been four years since Mandroid came out. You’ve been touring regularly ever since, but I assume the time in between specials is because of your insanely busy schedule with… everything.
That’s exactly right. Everything that I’ve done has really been a way to let people know what I’m about so that they’ll come see me live. Even when I started Nerdist, I thought it was better than just having a website telling people to watch me do comedy. Your job as a comedian is to put your voice in the world, then people can decide if they like that. So I started Nerdist and figured it was a better way to express who I am, while including my tour dates in the corner of the page. If people liked it or the podcast, they’d come see me.
Since there wasn’t a lot of stand-up on television at the time, I decided to do the podcast. It would be fun and all mine, and no one would tell me how to do it. It would let people know who we were — me, Matt Mira and Jonah Ray — and then they could decide to come see us live. But the podcast became its own thing. @midnight is the same — it was designed to be a stand-up comedy game show. Anyone who watches will hopefully find out about me and the three other people on the show, and then go see them perform live, as well.
You toured a lot ahead of taping Funcomfortable. Was it as much as you’d wanted, or less because of your schedule?
All that other stuff does take up a lot of time, so I don’t tour as much as I would otherwise. Someone asked me this the other night, about George Carlin and Louis C.K.‘s ability to pop out a new special almost every year. It’s an amazing feat, but I don’t think I could do that. In a perfect stand-up situation, I would crank one out every two years. I’d spend a year hammering out the material, and another year polishing it and tightening all the screws. But because my schedule is so intense… @midnight is Monday through Wednesday, Talking Dead is pretty much every Sunday now, Thursdays are for Nerdist business and podcasts are throughout the week. Friday and Saturday are really the only days that I can do stand-up, and sometimes it gets tricky because I can’t fly back on Sunday. Talking Dead is live, so if a flight got cancelled or… I can’t miss work on Sundays. It does get a little tricky when setting up dates, but I still managed to do 50 dates last year.
If I were just touring, that would probably be 200 dates. And then the material would cycle… The rate of turnover would increase dramatically and I would crank out a special every two years. But I think there’s two to two and a half years before the next one. I already see what the next one is about. Every time you do a special, you learn so much about how to do it. So my plan is not to wait another four years before the next one comes out.
It boggles my mind how people like you and Aisha Tyler are able to accomplish so much.
People like us, who have these obsessive brains… I think it’s kind of an all or nothing thing. It’s hard to have an in between. It’s hard to have nothing to do for two days, because there’s momentum. You get into this momentum and it doesn’t seem that crazy when you’re doing it. This past week for me, last Sunday we did Fear the Walking Dead. Monday was @midnight, Monday night was Talking Saul. Tuesday and Wednesday, I did four podcasts in addition to @midnight, two shows of which we taped on Wednesday. Got on a plane after the show and flew to northern California to shoot something on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Came back Saturday afternoon. Then back to Talking Dead on Sunday.
On paper it looks pretty nuts, but when you’re in the midst of it, you don’t really notice it because you’re constantly in motion. You only really notice it when you sit down. I tend to get sick on vacation because that’s when the momentum of everything finally stops. It’s as if you suddenly slammed on the brakes, and everything in the trunk flew forward into the windshield. But it’s fine. I remember 10 years ago when I had nothing to do all day, and that was way more crazy-making than what I do now. I basically get to do a bunch of shit I love all the time. It’s kind of hard to complain about it. I still do sometime, but ultimately I appreciate it.
Chris Hardwick: Funcomfortable premieres Saturday, April 30 at 10 p.m. ET on Comedy Central. Until then, here’s a preview…